I took this photo late last month, on the end of my first visit to Yankee Stadium in 30 years (a game—and win—against the Chicago White Sox that I discussed in this post). This particular shot, taken just before I left the House That Ruth Built—on a night that Martin Prado won on a walk-off hit—left fans like myself giddy. It came when there was still a thin reed of hope for the season.
Tonight’s emotional victory, in Derek Jeter’s dramatic finale to his career at the stadium, gilded over what was, in many ways, a deeply unnerving glimpse this season into the future of the New York Yankees. It is not unlike 1967 and 1968, when best friends (and future Hall of Famers) Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle played their last seasons—only this time, it was Mariano Rivera and Jeter bidding farewell.
Next year, the Steinbrenners will not have a pair of Cooperstown first-ballot inductees from the most recent dynasty to give temporary jolts of adrenalin to the box office—and the clubhouse. Say what you want about Jeter’s declining skills, but at 40 years old, he still managed to make it onto the field, more often than not, to play the second most-difficult infield position (after catcher) and to provide much-needed grit and fire.
An hour after I was whooping it up at The Captain’s walk-off hit against the Orioles, I am feeling gloomy, peering into the Bombers' future.
Start with that hole at shortstop. The Yankees admit there is nobody within their minor league system who can play the position in The Show, never mind make fans forget a legend. The possibility that has bubbled to the surface has become all too sadly typical of the approach of the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman: J.J. Hardy, shortstop of the currently ascendant Baltimore Orioles, a player who, at 32 years old, will probably begin the downward arc of his career shortly--just when he would be rewarded with an onerous long-term contract.
Tonight is when the cheering stopped for this season. The feel-good departures of Mo and The Captain the past two seasons only partially obscured the disturbing fact that the Yankees missed the playoffs for two years in a row for the first time in two decades. Next year won’t mark the long goodbyes of two homegrown products, but the very awkward return of Alex Rodriguez, a hired gun who epitomizes the worst tendency of the Steinbrenner Era. There won’t even be a trace of a nostalgic era of good feelings then.